I read a lot of blogs. I read a lot of Facebook and Twitter posts. I read a lot of weekly and monthly columnists. Every year around this time, they all write the obligatory “New Year” posts, usually looking back on the soon-to-end year, bitching about everything that they’ve considered a wrong-doing, a tragedy, or anything else they feel compelled to complain about, and proclaiming the upcoming turn of the calendar year “their” year, or “our” year, or the end of “whatever-had-the-nerve-to-try-and-hold-them-down.” After what has to be the worst year of my life, I wanted to do the same thing…..
But, I can’t do it.
I spent all morning laying out all of the things that happened this year..All of the things I couldn’t do. All of the things that were taken from me. When I sat down at my desk to go ape-jack-moose-s%$t about it, I realized 2017 was the greatest year of my life. I’ve learned more this year than ever before, not just about myself, but my family, my friends, and everyone else I have chosen to surround myself with, from therapists and doctors, to my neighbors and strangers in lobbies or restaurants. It’s far too easy to bitch about things these days. If you think it, someone somewhere agrees with it. Put it on Facebook, Twitter, or the Gram, make it public, and wait. People will join you no matter what your message is. This is no different, but it’s harder to view negative moments as positive. It takes more thought, more intellect, more time, and more reflection, and it will not garner the same attention, but this isn’t about attention. It’s about sharing lessons learned, and for that reason, I hope you keep reading.
This whole thing started in February of 2017, but it doesn’t feel like 10 months have passed, and it certainly hasn’t felt like a lifetime. Instead, it feels like a very brief moment in time, almost like I can look over my shoulder and clearly see the starting line. When placed in perspective, it’s 10 months out of 45 years (545 months), or 1.83% of my life, a minuscule amount of time, but without question the most important fraction of a percent I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.
First and foremost, a brief explanation of how this has changed me. I can’t walk or talk like I used to be able to so easily do. It’s easy to look at old pictures and imagine playing basketball or volleyball, or even going 110% in the ever-foolish Sunday morning, no pads, helmets, or mouth-guard tackle football games I spent playing in my 20’s and start to feel like that was somehow taken from me. It’s easy to think back to when I was the quick-witted big-mouth that casually threw out verbal jabs, or at times, absolutely destroyed a walking-dictionary-of-misinformation who realized far too late that they were arguing with the wrong person about the wrong subject and regret not being able to verbally assassinate people, a personality trait I’ve been known for most of my adult life. I very rarely look at myself in these scenarios, as that would prevent me from seeing what I’ve learned about myself, and how I’ve managed to change how I do and say things to adapt, and in my opinion, become a better person along the way.
The communication portion is still the hardest, because it changes every day, and it involves physical movement, verbal expression, and rapid series of thought processing, all items affected by my new best friend, Autoimmune Cerebellar Ataxia. I’m an active talker, meaning I use my hands, mouth, eyes, and body to get my point across, but I can not, right now, walk and talk at the same time, so extravagant hand and arm motions are not a real option. I’m still incredibly quick upstairs, but by the time I send the message to my mouth, most people have moved 2-3 sentences ahead, and my message is just a loud, off-color interruption by then, so, rare are the once well-timed zingers. I like to move around, and sway, when telling a story, but once again, it’s just not a real possibility if I want to stay upright, and finally, the most difficult movements I make are “repeated” movements, like clapping, or blinking repeatedly, or moving my eyes quickly back-and-forth, an indicator of my confusion or panic when someone is walking on the wrong side of the “stupid” line. I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention, but I have always wanted to be involved in conversations. Because of the reasons listed above, I’ve had to change how I can still take part in them, without frustrating, interrupting, or dragging out a conversation, and that brings me to my 1st lesson in 2017. Be a better conversationalist by being a better listener. I ask more questions and actually listen to the responses. I’m not saying I never listened before all this started, but It was not a specialty of mine. I have genuinely learned so many things about people by listening to them more closely and watching the body language associated with their words. People are fascinating creatures, some strong, some weak, and despite their self-beliefs or strongly-worded proclamations, all are afraid of something. I can put my fears on the back-burner because I know I’m not alone with fear. It’s just a part of human life, and in 45 years, I never knew that. I considered fear a weakness, when in reality, it’s a form of awareness (if you’re paranoid, get help, that’s different). Do I still lose control or get over-excited about potential zingers in a conversation and ruin the flow? Yup. I’ll probably never stop, but it happens less often than ever, and it’s all because I genuinely want to know more about everyone.
Physically, I continue to grow. The truth is, I haven’t been taking care of myself since I took up drinking in 1990. I’ve been considered obese since 1995, I smoked from 1990-2017, I ate anything and everything in excessive quantities until 2017, and the total lack of exercise I did was enough to kill a lesser man. During this least healthy year of my life, I have once again grasped onto some guidelines and motivation, without the insane, manic desire to overdo it, instead pacing myself and listening to a body that literally screams different messages every day. Being a better listener now applies to the voices in my head too. I need a true understanding of what I can attempt to accomplish everyday, and then I need to understand how I can push that a little bit further, but not too much, to continue making progress day-to-day, week-to-week, or even month-to-month. I need a way to monitor my accomplishments, no matter how big or small, and I need to maintain the motivation to do so everyday. And I’ve found it. I feel absurd doing shoulder-presses with 3 lb hand weights, and struggling to do so. Seriously, from the 1st lift, I’m shaking (tremors), but every day I shake less. Yesterday I did 30 seconds of this exercise without a single tremor. It’s wicked slow, and not at all graceful, but it’s coming along. I’ve been told, and I now believe it, that I’m still plenty strong, but I have to relearn and remap movements that I’ve done my whole life. I love learning, so if I can learn and exercise at the same time, well….I’m plenty motivated to do so. I still love chocolate/candy/junk food, but I have the sense to say no (sometimes), and since I made the change to a gluten-free diet, I’m much more aware of what I’m allowing into my body. More fruit, vegetables, and lean-proteins have found my mouth this year than all of the 5 years prior. My weight has maintained, despite a heavy daily dose of Prednisone, a steroid known to cause over-eating and weight gain. I am winning this battle, and as I continue to be more active, I hope to lose a few more pounds in the future.
I’m going to briefly touch on my family, but if you read this blog on the reg, you already know that they are my anchor. They helped me settle down, grow, and be a better person. Nothing has changed here. My number 1 will always be my family. Without them, all of them, I am certain I would not be here enjoying life or watching them grow.
My wife, Meghan continues to selflessly work for my care, never complaining, always smiling through every detail, all while keeping her eyes on the next step, ready to knock down the next obstacle that dare get in her way. She came from above, no doubt. I’m certain I’ll never be able to properly express my never-ending love and gratitude for her, but I’ll never stop trying. She’s not just an amazing wife, she’s an equally amazing Mother to 2 children, an equally amazing friend, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Cousin, Co-worker, and the most incredible PERSON I’ve ever met. She inspires me to be more than I am every day, and does so in the most clever, well-meaning ways possible. I owe her everything, and I plan on paying her back as soon as I am able.
I’m a very proud step-father to 2 amazing kids (young adults really). I have been truly blessed with them. Kellyn, a Sophomore at UW Stout, is the eldest of the 2. Her compassion for people runs deep, and she is often called an old soul, and justifiably so. When you talk with her, she comforts you with a calm not found in the majority of people her age. She gives the impression that she has lived through one or more lives, and she is prepared to handle whatever she is dealt in a calm, strategic manner. She can also lose her mind and act like your typical 19 year old, which makes her one of my favorite people to talk to. We text regularly, and she always knows which Kellyn I need to hear or read. She checks in at what always seems to be the perfect time for me, and always quickly responds when I reach out to her. She’s an absolute joy to watch mature and grow, and I am perpetually proud of her.
Dylan is a Senior at Catholic Memorial High School, and recently made a decision regarding his University of choice, but I haven’t been given permission to publicly release that info yet, so…I won’t. Dylan is a lot like me, in that he cares about his people, but medical stuff makes him uncomfortable. He doesn’t like hospitals, but he worries if you’re there. He’s always offering to help make a meal or move something out of the way, and that’s how he shows his compassion for others. He’s incredibly driven and set in his ways, so he has a routine and he’s more predictable than Kellyn. He doesn’t text regularly, but he lives under the same roof, so why would he? Occasionally though, I’ll get a text from him, telling me to take care of myself, and that’s everything I need from him. That’s a lot. I’ve watched him become a very accomplished and mature young man over the years, and I am certain he will continue his rise to the top of something, somewhere in the years to come.
My sisters, Mandy and Melissa, continue to be there for me when I need them, without question, despite their own lives and busy schedules. I truly wish I could be around them more, and as I continue to progress, I will do just that. These women are like 2 different versions of my mother, and being around them brings me endless memories of her strength, intelligence and determination. They were taught by one of the best, and it shows. Powerful women inspire me because of my Mom, and now because of my sisters.
I could go on about my family, which would put me well over my limit for typing today. The long and short of it is this…They’re amazing. My 4 nephews, 2 of which are real-live adults, continue to grow and inspire. In 3 hours on Christmas Eve, the entire Kinzfogl clan just treated me like Ricky, their nephew, their cousin. No judgement, no sympathy. They offered help, and understood when I said no. I could feel the love in the air, and see it in their eyes, and to me, that’s what family feels and looks like. For 2 days after that, I received the same treatment from Meghan’s family. No judgement. No sympathy. I felt like part of the group, not an outsider confined to a walker. There’s something very special about being included in a group when you feel like an outsider. It’s liberating. It’s special. Many friends reached out by text and messenger with well-wishes for the New Year. Some came by with gifts. ALL were appreciated. This year, I read, and listened to, every word, and every message was significantly more meaningful to me this year.
As you approach 2018, keep in mind that you have 2 ways to view negative events…
You can put them on blast, and everyone will react with you for a day or 2 before shoveling up the next pile of s#@t to complain about…
You can share what you’ve learned this year, tuck that lesson away somewhere safe, and use it in the future to help you cope with the coming years, which, by the way, will probably have bad things happen too. Better to be prepared with coping mechanisms, in my opinion.